2016 was a busy year for Google, particularly as it relates to its algorithm - the formula used to rank the resulting Web pages from a user's query. With nine updates over the course of twelve months, the push to deliver better search results based on user intent was at the forefront of Google's efforts. Prioritizing the user and customizing content - from search results to personalized recommendations - goes hand-in-hand with the 2016 push for putting the customer first.
Making sense of what the updates mean for your small business website can be tricky. However, E2M Solutions have pulled together the below infographic which encapsulates each update in layman's terms. The fully animated infographic is viewable at the bottom of the page, but for those curious to know more about each update, here's a summary of each key element.
Core Algorithm Update
The year's first algorithm update, appropriately termed "core update" by Google, significantly impacted rankings for a great number of websites. Google was reticent to call it anything more than a quality update, and said it was not linked to either Panda nor Penguin updates. Essentially, spam websites were moved down in search rankings to make room for real business sites.
At the end of February, Google adjusted its AdWords settings, and the pesky right-hand ad bar disappeared from Google searches. Instead, the top four ads - which was a sizable increase given that only one to three ads were previously displayed - were now listed first after the search results. While this was great for advertisers, this change has taken a toll on organic search results and their click through rates.
The day after the AdWords update, Google launched its AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages) listings in mobile search results. This translated to another change in the layout of search results - now, the AMP listings appeared above the top results or in a carousel format. This was a big step for publishers and advertisers as it gave them increased visibility and faster load times, which improved click through rates.
Google never made an official statement about this May update, but those closely monitoring search rankings and SERPs noticed an uptick in activity. Again, think of this as quality control of illegitimate websites.
Google admitted to this update, which supported ranking boosts to mobile-friendly websites on mobile search. This was good news if you had recently optimized your website, as it helped your website rank higher on mobile, where so many searches are being conducted. If you haven't optimized your website yet, now is the time.
In September, the Possum update went live, targeting the 3-pack and local, or more commonly known Google Maps results. While, again, this was unconfirmed by Google, it noticeably impacted website rankings based on local parameters and helped hide spam sites.
Universal Results Shakeup
Later in September, Google cleaned house and remove almost 50% of image results connected to SERPs. As you can imagine, this caused a major ranking upheaval and people took notice. This change made room for more organic Page One search results, which was amazing for businesses. Many images previously found on Page One results were moved to Page Two and beyond in order to bring more relevant SERP content to Page One content.
After a two-year break, Penguin 4 was launched and served to halt a significant amount of spam on a page-by-page basis. The biggest note about this update is that it's ongoing, so for businesses with penalized web pages, they can quickly adjust the page, and Google will review in real-time. No longer will businesses be banned or put on hold because of a systematic algorithm update.
Last but not least, Google ended the year with a third unconfirmed update. Speculation suggests that this update was tied to mobile-first index testing, which would be rolled out at a later date. Only those with their finger on the pulse of SERPs noticed the change, and there were mixed reviews about its strength and total impact. It's safe to assume that this was a minor update that will be tied to future algorithm updates and the state of website rankings in general.
Infographic courtesy of E2M